President Pranab Mukherjee may have been uttering the words, but the words had a clear, unmistakable stamp. Narendra Modi – the energetic campaigner – was now Narendra Modi – the Prime Minister. But Modi's language had remained the same, and the President, as per tradition, was speaking on his PM
and government's advice.
A defining feature of Modi's campaign speeches was his focus on strengthening federalism, a reference which found prominence in Monday's address. Mukherjee said that "over the years, the federal spirit has been diluted...and states and the Centre should function as an organic Team India". The centre would be an enabler in the progress of states through "cooperative federalism", added Mukherjee.
President Pranab Mukherjee gestures a greeting as he arrives with Prime Minster Narendra Modi to address the joint session of Parliament in New Delhi. (AFP photo)
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The government, he said, would "reinvigorate fora like the National Development Council and Inter-State Council"; two institutions that had met rarely during the UPA regime. State specific development models would be developed taking into account needs of coastal, hilly and desert areas. The political subtext was clear. Modi, as a man who had come after leading a state, had empathy for other states; it was also a way to reach out to regional parties and potential allies.
Specifically, Mukherjee mentioned the government would address the issues of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana; it would lay special emphasis on connectivity and border infrastructure in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir – which have both development and security ramifications.
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In his campaign in West Bengal and Assam, Modi had spoken on the theme of illegal infiltration. Mukherjee took it a step forward by saying this will be "tackled on priority", and all pending 'fencing work' along the Northeast border will be completed soon. In Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and the Northeast, Modi had spoken of how the east had lagged behind. Today, Mukherjee said that highest priority would be given to bring the east on par with the west in terms of physical and social infrastructure. He also promised efforts to ensure the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the land of their ancestors.
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During the campaign, there was a perception that NDA's focus was growth, while the UPA was committed only to welfare. Modi's campaign had avoided this dichotomy, and addressed both issues. Mukherjee's speech did the same.
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He did start out with poverty elimination and not just alleviation, spoke of rural India and agriculture; of welfare; and of 'containing food inflation' as top-most priority. But Mukherjee also kept the focus on reviving growth, reigniting the investment cycle, creating jobs, and restoring international confidence in the economy.
Since taking over, Modi has already taken steps to streamline the bureaucracy. The approach was enunciated formally, with Mukherjee saying his government would give bureaucrats 'the freedom to work', welcome innovative ideas, put in place transparent systems, and eliminate 'obsolete laws, regulations, administrative structures and practices'.
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PM Modi also introduced a new lexicon to the tradition of Presidential addresses, which are typically dry policy statements. He had asked for 60 months in the campaign; the President's speech ended with hoping that in 60 months, the government must be able to meet the 'great expectations' of the people. The slogan of 'minimum government, maximum governance'; 'Sabka Saath, sabka vikas', 'ek Bharat – Shrestha Bharat' and almost another half-a-dozen similar slogans were littered through the speech.
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